Since its launch in 1988, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) has successfully led global efforts to reduce the incidence of poliovirus infections. From a world where 1,000 children were paralyzed each day across 125 countries, the number was down to six cases of wild polio in 2021, primarily in the two endemic countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Cases of polio, particularly variant polioviruses (cVDPV), still emerge too frequently in populations with low immunisation rates. Suspended polio campaigns in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic caused setbacks to the eradication efforts, with the pandemic also resulting in a fall in routine immunisations globally. In 2022, detection of isolates and cases in countries that have gone without either in decades is challenging the pre-existing sense of complacency around the world.
With these continuing challenges, the GPEI remains an important organisation in the campaign to eradicate polio, and eradicating polio remains an important goal to achieve. Without support to the GPEI, we risk spending more to control the virus and losing ground in the campaign towards eradication, whereas investing in polio now may cumulatively save an estimated US $33.1 billion by 2100, while ensuring no child is ever paralyzed by this disease again.
In 2019, the UK received global praise when they committed £400 million for GPEI, to help vaccinate more than 750 children a minute against polio in LMICs and help support 20 million health workers and volunteers. However, in 2021, cuts to the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget disproportionately reduced support to GPEI by 95% and risked enormous setbacks to eradication efforts at a critical moment. Civil society welcomes the UK’s recent commitment to GPEI of £50 million over the next three years. However, this is still an alarming 70% cut from the initial commitment.
We encourage the UK Government to show their support for GPEI by increasing their existing pledge and commit to the full strategic period up to 2026, and in addition to increasing their overall spending on ODA and joining their G7 peers in being more responsive and flexible to development needs. Through this research, ACTION makes the case for continued, renewed, and additional commitment to the GPEI, by providing case studies that take stock of the polio situation in Pakistan, Nigeria and Papua New Guinea.
A young child receives the polio vaccine drops at the Malahang Health Clinic in Lae, Marobe Province, Papua New Guinea in 2018.
Credit: © Gavi/2018/AAPIMAGE-Brendan Esposito